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Apr 25, 2020
The Great: Watch Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult Go Head-to-Head in 18th-Century Russia

Oscar-nominated writer and showrunner Tony McNamara doesn’t reckon he’ll get any warm, fuzzy letters from historians about his upcoming Hulu series The Great, a deliciously ahistorical take on the rise of Catherine the Great. The series, which stars Elle Fanning as the titular Russian monarch, traces the outline of Catherine’s life, then colors it in with lurid details and wild dialogue dreamt up by McNamara—who also wrote 2018’s The Favourite, a punk period piece about Queen Anne.

“I find period shows too polite on the whole,” he said. “They’re so drowned in their own historical facts.”

In a new trailer for the series, available exclusively on Vanity Fair, Catherine begins settling into life with her new husband, the immature Peter III, played by Nicholas Hoult. “She’s an extreme optimist in the beginning, and has this kind of beautiful look on life and love—and then is in for a real big rude awakening when she gets to Russia,” Fanning said of her character.

In keeping with McNamara’s laissez-faire approach, both Fanning and Hoult said that they didn’t really do any research on the figures they’re playing. (“To be honest with you, absolutely, pretty much nothing,” Hoult emphasized.) Instead, they leaned heavily on McNamara’s dense scripts, as well as on the show’s disclaimer—which proclaims that The Great contains “occasional historical facts and clothes.” One of Hoult’s favorite examples of McNamara’s pithy brilliance can be seen in the trailer, when Peter hires a lover for Catherine, then glances down approvingly at his nether regions and simply quips: “Marvelous.”

The actor, who also starred in The Favourite as a haughty court adviser, is quickly becoming a go-to muse for McNamara. “His timing was incredible,” the show creator said. “He had an ability to be likably unlikable, and get away with outrageous things.”

Fanning, on the other hand—also an executive producer on The Great—is a new collaborator in McNamara’s life. “She’s such a wonderful person, and she’s always looking for character work,” he said. “She’s really smart, really funny, really spirited…she’s really an original.”

Prior to writing the series, McNamara knew some of the broader details about Catherine’s life. But he was captivated by her story as he began to do more research. “She was a young woman who took over an empire. She kept the Enlightenment alive in Europe when it was dying. And she invented the roller coaster,” he pointed out.

Still, he stressed, The Great is more about “the essence of the woman, rather than every historical fact about what happened.” The writer wanted to emphasize who Catherine and Peter might have actually been, on a messy, molecular, day-to-day basis. In other words: “I expect historians will be angry.”

The Great will be available to stream on Hulu on May 15. [Source]


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